Dangerous Secret Of The Alaskan Permafrost

Alaska is, without a doubt, an amazing place, but below the surface of its natural beauty hides something which scientists think can be the key to the future of our planet. Through studying one particular part of the Alaskan landscape, they are now coming up with new research and new facts about our world, and what they keep discovering is far from good news.

Alaskan Permafrost

Image Credit: Getty Images/The Asahi Shimbun Premium

Image Credit: Getty Images/The Asahi Shimbun Premium

Venturing to Alaska means entering a stunning natural world full of life. But one of the biggest natural wonders of the region is the Alaskan permafrost. This frozen ground, which never melts, is made up of soil, frozen water, rock, and much more, and the permafrost in Alaska has been thousands of years. Scientists are beginning to realize just how important it is for the world’s ecosystem.

The Importance Of The Frozen Ground

Image Credit: Getty Images/The Asahi Shimbun Premium

Image Credit: Getty Images/The Asahi Shimbun Premium

Permafrost is not like any other ground. It is structurally important, and its melting can cause serious erosion, landslides, and many other problems. Alaska stands almost entirely on this frozen ground. No wonder that any changes within it can begin a snowball effect no one wants to experience. But there is a path leading into the permafrost, which is promising solutions to future problems. 

The Tunnel

Image Credit: Flickr/Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright

Image Credit: Flickr/Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright

There is a tunnel that has been dug deep into the Alaskan permafrost. It measures around 360 feet in length and goes about 50 feet deep. This tunnel was built between 1963-1969, and its original purpose was to study underground excavation methods in permafrost. However, scientists soon realized that other things could be and should be studied there. And the popularity of the tunnel started rising.

Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility

Image Credit: Flickr/Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright

Image Credit: Flickr/Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright

The Alaskan permafrost tunnel quickly became a magnet for scientists studying geology, paleontology, or even mining methods, and it is proving to be a priceless laboratory to this day. And there certainly is enough material to study underground in this area. 

The Rich Exploration Site

Image Credit: Flickr/Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright

Image Credit: Flickr/Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright

The permafrost tunnel offers scientists a look into over 40,000 years of history. They are able to gather data on many various things relating to Earth’s history, but one study, especially in recent years, has become prevalent. Scientists are now using the tunnel to predict the future of the world.

Predicting The Future

Image Credit: Flickr/Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright

Image Credit: Flickr/Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright

The tunnel can show us how the Earth’s climate shifted over the millennia and how life adapted to it. Studying climate shifts has become easier thanks to the resources of the Alaskan permafrost, but the tunnel has also shocked scientists in more ways than one. 

Amazing Finds

Image Credit: Getty Images/Gado/Smith Collection

Image Credit: Getty Images/Gado/Smith Collection

Microbiologists were among the first groups of researchers to descend into the tunnel in order to study the unique life in the frozen ground. And what they discovered was extraordinary. They found bacteria which has been trapped in the ice for thousands of years, and they were able to bring it back to life- 25,000 years later! But that was far from the biggest find in the tunnel. 

The Frozen Mammoths

Image Credit: NASA/Kate Ramsayer

Image Credit: NASA/Kate Ramsayer

Paleontologists were another group of researchers who came to study other forms of life that might have been trapped in the permafrost. And they were successful too. They found remains of animals and plants perfectly preserved by the cold, rather than fossilized. Mammoths and other large animals have been unearthed. But sometimes, the unearthing is a bit too simple, and that worries scientists all over the world.

Extreme Science

Image Credit: NASA/Kate Ramsayer

Image Credit: NASA/Kate Ramsayer

Many research papers have been written about the permafrost in Alaska, and they all agree that the permafrost recently has been undergoing a very unwelcome change. The mammoths are almost poking out of the permafrost these days, which means something is going wrong. These remains are not meant to be visible, and unfortunately, something is underway indeed.

The Melting Begins

Image Credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Image Credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle

The permafrost appears to be melting at an unprecedented rate. Much like the icebergs, this frozen ground is experiencing the effects of global warming, and it is not taking them well. Permafrost has been frozen for thousands of years, and it looks like it is just now beginning to melt. And it has become quite visible in Alaska.

The Brown Land

Image Credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Image Credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Unlike glaciers, permafrost isn’t going to literally melt and turn into water. Permafrost will thaw and turn into a muddy brown mixture instead. And recently, as scientists have found, the region of Alaska has been thawing more than usual. And that brings some serious danger because of what hides in the ice.

What The Earth Hides

Image Credit: Getty Images/The Asahi Shimbun Premium

Image Credit: Getty Images/The Asahi Shimbun Premium

Permafrost is packed with remains of life that have been frozen for thousands of years. Everything that lived in the region has been preserved in the cold temperature, and should the permafrost melt; a big problem is going to arise. Simply because of what life on Earth is made of.

Carbon Based Life

Image Credit: Getty Images/The Asahi Shimbun Premium

Image Credit: Getty Images/The Asahi Shimbun Premium

Life on Earth is based on carbon. This means that every creature which has been trapped in the permafrost for millennia is still filled with it. What will then happen should the permafrost melt suddenly and almost completely. Scientists know that the results will be deadly to the planet.

Danger Ahead

Image Credit: Getty Images/The Asahi Shimbun Premium

Image Credit: Getty Images/The Asahi Shimbun Premium

Nearly 30% of Earth’s land-based carbon is hiding in the permafrost. If the frozen ground melts, all this carbon will be released into the atmosphere, which will cause a massive spike in global warming. The effect of the Alaskan melting permafrost can affect the whole Earth, and it looks like the event is unstoppable. But scientists are trying hard to help.

The Ultimate Challenge

Image Credit: Getty Images/Michael Sugrue

Image Credit: Getty Images/Michael Sugrue

The purpose of studying the permafrost tunnel in Alaska is to better understand the shifts in climate that our Earth goes through. The job of the scientists down there is to develop solutions as best as they can, and even though it’s a tough job to have, it’s vitally important for the health of the planet.

The permafrost tunnel is a wonderful peek into the history of our planet, but it is also a scary crystal ball into our future. If we do not stop the rate we are warming the planet at soon, there is the danger that all the permafrost of the Earth will melt simultaneously, which will most likely prove to be deadly for the whole world. 

Sources: Alaska CentersThe Alaska LifeAtlas ObscuraERDCPRINPRNational GeographicVice

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